If you use a mobile phone, chances are Flann’s technology helped make it work
For over 60 years Flann Microwave has been designing and manufacturing some of the world’s leading precision microwave communications equipment. The Bodmin based electronics and engineering company is so pervasive that if you have used a mobile phone chances are Flann’s technology helped to make it work. Globally renowned in engineering circles but not well known to the public, Invest in Cornwall met with Kevin Fenemore-Jones to learn more about this little-known company and understand how the 60 strong team has earned its reputation as the Rolls Royce of microwave components.
Flann was founded in 1956 by engineer Bernard Fleming with quality at its core. The company soon earned its reputation as a leader in the field of microwave technology, providing Cornwall based Goonhilly Earth Station with the equipment that enabled the site to receive the first live transatlantic television broadcasts from the United States in 1962. Fast forward to 2017 and Flann is still one of Goonhilly Earth Station Limited’s main suppliers, as well as to other technology companies around the world.
The business moved from the outskirts of London to a purpose-built headquarters and engineering facility in Bodmin, North Cornwall in 1970, and from here has remained at the forefront of the global revolution in telecommunications. “The reason that we have done so well being based in Cornwall is largely down to the region’s culture. I believe that Cornwall has something truly unique – on one hand there’s a rich heritage and value placed on engineering excellence and on the other a fantastic quality of life and sense of creativity.” Despite being a global leader in telecoms, Flann’s approach to work-life balance is surprisingly pragmatic. “Culturally we have placed ourselves in this beautiful part of the country and we want our employees to be able to make the most of it, so we operate a four-day working week. It stems back to when the company left London and employees were travelling back and forth to visit family – funnily enough, as the years have gone by everyone has been perfectly happy to keep the policy in place.” Despite being over 60 years old, Flann has a next-generation mindset towards getting the best from its employees. “We don’t have a 24/7 nose to the grindstone type culture here. Tightening control over your workforce does not necessarily correlate with better quality work. We value our employees and give them the ability to express themselves creatively in things that are interesting. For example, when we began to incorporate 3D printing into our development phase we purchased a printer and allowed the team to test it out on small personal projects, enabling them to get a deeper appreciation of what’s possible with the technology and to experiment with it.”
The shortage of engineers is a global issue and one that Flann has inevitably encountered throughout its 60 years of trading. “Recruiting locally is a challenge – there’s no getting away from it and it’s a problem shared by the companies up and down the county. One thing that we have found is that once people join Flann they tend to stay for a long time meaning that we are better able to train and invest in developing the skills the company needs to remain a market leader.
To give context, Flann is not only a market leader; it sits on the board that set the international technical standards for waveguide technology, alongside NASA, UK, US and European governments. “We are a high value, low volume producer adding huge value in terms of quality and innovation to a highly technical sector. If a product doesn’t meet the specification we will not ship it and our customers believe that. That kind of reputation has been earned through 60 years of absolute commitment to producing the very best.”
As increasing pressure is put on the planet’s natural resources businesses will need to become smarter to keep pace, reducing waste and increasing efficiency, and satellite communications have a crucial role to play. “There’s no doubt that satellite technology is part of the solution to future proof the planet – everything from measuring sea temperature and wave heights, ice density, flooding – these are all applications of waveguide in space. Then there are the capabilities for communications – again an area that is constantly evolving and has massive potential. It’s an extremely exciting sector to be shaping and for us, Cornwall is the only place we’d want to do that.”Kevin Fenemore-Jones International Sales
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